Jan 27 2022
Data Analytics

College Enrollment Changes Offer Schools Greater Access and Insight

New technologies are helping higher ed institutions augment and effectively serve their student populations.

In 2020, college enrollment — which had already decreased by 1.5 million from 2011 to 2018 — fell to its lowest level since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response, several schools have implemented new technology to help facilitate various aspects of the enrollment process and address needs that have emerged due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to remote learning.

EXPLORE: Emerging technology trends higher ed is watching for in 2022.

Assessing Data-Driven Enrollment and Retention

Prior to 2020, faculty and staff at Duquesne University received weekly emails featuring insights produced by the reporting system for its enterprise resource planning solution. Yet, according to Jeff Miller, senior vice provost of the school, these reports often only involved statements about enrollment trends, prompting the school to look at other options.

“The inspiration was enrollment downturns and challenges we’re all facing across the business sector,” Miller says. “Our university had never embraced the dashboard model of data presentation. We really needed to make a move on it, particularly once we saw the issues with enrollment and the lack of execution on following up on applications and time-to-degree issues.”

Duquesne eventually started using Microsoft’s Power BI platform, which combines numerous sources of data into interactive visuals.

Although the university hadn’t tapped into it, Power BI was actually included in its Microsoft license. This meant that department chairs, student success coaches and other officials could use the tool without any extra cost to, for example, examine the number of students who receive D’s or F’s or withdraw from classes in order to pinpoint course structures that might need adjustment. They also could compare programs to gauge which are generating adequate revenue, where efficiencies might be gained and where there are opportunities for consolidation.

“The biggest surprise is how much we rely on it now, and what a void we must have had for so many years,” Miller says. “We were making decisions without any of this information historically. Our applications are significantly up, our time to review has significantly decreased, the time to decision is significantly decreased. We’re already seeing much more [admissions] deposits year over year. This cycle is just running so efficiently.”

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Adopting Digital Asset Management Tools

California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) had begun to transition to a more paperless processing system before the pandemic — which proved beneficial when the school needed to issue 8,000 TitanCard student IDs remotely in 2021.

Students were unable to physically bring proof of identification to the TitanCard counter in the campus library, so CSUF had them upload images of their driver’s licenses or other government IDs and utilize the e-signature solution Adobe Sign’s Government ID authentication feature to confirm their identities.

“Then, they have photos that they can upload for their TitanCards,” says Joe Luzzi, assistant vice president of IT and enterprise applications at the university. “That gets submitted, and then the TitanCard office processes the cards and mails them out to the students.”

CSUF has, to date, converted 250 forms into digital versions using Adobe’s Experience Manager tool — something that’s saved time, Luzzi says, since staffers no longer must scan and save copies of physical documents. The risk of incorrect information being entered also has been reduced, as some form fields are prepopulated with information pulled from external systems.

DISCOVER: Why tech adoption is more critical than ever.

Numerous procedures have been streamlined, Luzzi explains, such as the previously labor-intensive withdrawal process. This process required a student to pick up and fill out a form, have a faculty member sign it, get a department dean or chair’s signature and then return the form to the records office for every class he or she wanted to drop.

Now, students simply fill out a form online, and the form is routed to the correct parties to obtain their approval signatures electronically, then sent to the records office for processing.

In addition to reducing the time involved in submission procedures, digitizing forms with Adobe Sign and Experience Manager is helping CSUF meet its tech-savvy end users’ customer service needs.

“They’ve grown up with technology,” Luzzi says. “Everything is done online now. It follows the mentality of our students and what they’re expecting us to deliver for them in regard to technology and processes.”

LEARN MORE: Tips for higher ed IT asset management.

A Personalized Approach to Data Analytics

Since 2012, the University of West Florida has used the Tableau analytics platform for a variety of tasks, including enrollment-related work.

Tableau allows users to customize the information they see with filters — enabling a department chair, for example, to only view information about the five programs he’s concerned with, while also letting an undergraduate admissions professional access criteria relating to all undergraduate programs.

Using the tool to look at recent and live data helps UWF administrators monitor enrollment and trends, according to executive director Dacia Larin.

“Tableau allows us to build dashboards that are very high-level for an executive to quickly glance at and be able to spot trends,” she says. “It also allows our functional users to drill down and get more of the detailed information they may need for what they’re working on.”

FIND OUT: How data analytics is bolstering student success in higher ed.

Data can be viewed from any desktop computer using virtually any web browser, or via the Tableau app available for Android iPhone devices, says UWF Database Administrator Erick Larin.

With the current system, when school officials submit a request for data, they don’t have to wait five to 10 business days for someone to determine where it’s stored and possibly combine elements. If the information is listed in two places, report writers can easily build a workbook containing all the back-end data columns and decide which to show or filter out.

“What’s great is if the person says, ‘I want to see more data’ or ‘I want to drill down’ — that’s editing,” Erick Larin says. “That can be done within a business day. There is no big undertaking of having to go back and rework it from scratch.”

Being able to connect Tableau to UWF’s student enterprise resource planning system, as well as other types of data sources, provides robust data insight capabilities, which Dacia Larin says essentially every area on campus has used for specific reporting needs.

“Our administrations are all very data-oriented in their decision-making,” she says. “They utilize a lot of the information we’re able to put out there in the Tableau reports — looking at not necessarily just enrollment, but course offerings and demand, creating schedules, grades. It’s almost unlimited, the amount of information and the way that you can look at it to make decisions in higher ed. There’s just a wealth of it.”

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